Pearl Jam, Riot Act

Jayson Greene

By Jayson Greene

on 09.16.11 in Reviews

Riot Act

Pearl Jam
The most overlooked, underappreciated moment in their discography

Riot Act is the most contemplative, insular record of Pearl Jam’s career; for the first time, they seemed to be speaking almost entirely to themselves. As such, it is the most overlooked, underappreciated moment in their discography. In its muted tone, the PJ record it recalls most powerfully is actually No Code, but this time, Vedder and the band feel genuinely comfortable in their own skin. The surfer-Zen koan “I Am Mine” could be a gently affirmative echo of “Who We Are,” right down to its modal chord progression. The similarly raga-like “Can’t Keep” arcs gently upward to Vedder’s pointed declaration “I don’t live forever/ You can’t keep me/Here.” The specter of death, always a sad theme in Pearl Jam’s career, looms over Riot Act: It was the first record since nine Pearl Jam fans were crushed to death and suffocated underfoot by a crowd at the Roskilde Festival. On the swelling multipart suite “Love Boat Captain,” Vedder references it mournfully and directly: “Lost nine friends we’ll never know/ Two years ago today.” The song, held aloft by a graceful Hammond organ, remains one of their late-period masterpieces, the sound of a tragedy-scarred band embracing its crags.